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A bolo is a large cutting tool similar to the machete, used particularly in the jungles of Indonesia, the Philippines, and in the sugar fields of Cuba. The primary use for the bolo is clearing vegetation, whether for agriculture or during trail blazing.
The bolo is called an itak in Tagalog while in Hiligaynon, the blade is referred to as either a binangon or a talibong.
Bolos are also used as military weapons and as such they were a particular favourite of the Lapu-Lapu against Magellan, Filipino resistance during the 1898 Philippine Revolution, the Cry of Balintawak against Spain, the Philippine-American War, and the Commonwealth period. Since the bolo was first used as a farming implement, it was used in combat because during colonial times the ubiquitous bolo was readily available to the common person. For this reason the study of the bolo is common in Filipino martial arts, such as Balintawak, Pekiti-Tirsia Kali and Modern Arnis.
Bolos are characterized by having a native hardwood handle, a full tang, and by a blade that both curves and widens, often considerably so, at its tip. This moves the centre of gravity as far forward as possible, giving the knife extra momentum for chopping vegetation. So-called “jungle bolos”, intended for combat rather than agricultural work, tend to be longer and less wide at the tip.
Various types of bolos are employed. An assortment of bolos and related implements include:
In the US military, the slang term “to bolo” – to fail a test, exam or evaluation, originated from the Philippine-American guerrilla forces during World War II; those guerrillas who failed to demonstrate proficiency in marksmanship were issued bolos instead of firearms so as not to waste scarce ammunition.